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Find Another World Behind Closed Doors in The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati

THE NEIGHBORS
Written and illustrated by Einat Tsarfati
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Publishers Weekly

 

The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati book cover

 

Whether or not children have ever set foot in an apartment building, I’m guessing they’ll want to after reading The Neighbor so they can try their hand at guessing who lives behind closed doors. The narrator of this charming picture book is a little girl who lives “in a building that is seven stories high.” Whenever she heads upstairs and passes by her neighbors’ doors, she imagines, based on clues from each door and its surroundings, just what type of person or persons makes that apartment their home.

Not only is the story packed with wonderful artwork, it’s also full of a bevy of interesting apartment dwellers. Take for example the ground floor flat. It’s got over half a dozen locks and a closed circuit security camera so the youngster figures that inside lives a family of thieves whose assorted hauls range from Egyptian artifacts to a pirate’s treasure. The apartment that has a wheel outside must belong to acrobats. This spread alone (one among many!), with its uni-cycle riding monkey on a slide, an elephant and a fire breathing baby, warrants multiple views and includes a surprise for observant readers. Muddy footprints on a doormat hint at an explorer’s presence on another floor. It’s likely a vampire resides on the floor where the lights always go out on the landing as the narrator makes her way home. Many apartment buildings I’ve visited abroad have the hall lighting on timers so this makes perfect sense since the picture book was translated from Hebrew. I appreciated the Art Nouveau touches in the vampire’s abode as well as his flair for clothing design. The music emanating from the door on floor six means only one thing—it’s party-time as depicted in another detail-rich spread. The little girl reckons the musical family inside “celebrates someone’s birthday at least once a week.”

 

int illustration from The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati

Interior spread from The Neighbors written and illustrated by Einat Tsarfati, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

So what about the girl’s apartment where she lives with her folks? It’s no surprise she finds her parents boring despite loving them. Her bedroom is filled with souvenirs from all over the world and she probably dreams of exotic places and exciting adventures. But, little does she know that, as she drifts off to sleep, her parents are superheroes living a wild life outside her very own bedroom door

Tsarfati’s included a cleverly hidden hamster (note the LOST signs at the book’s beginning) to search for in the comfortably cluttered and colorful illustrations plus one other treat. When her folks check if she’s asleep, the little girl’s eyes look slightly open so she may actually know what her parents get up to. Perhaps it’s a case of the grass is always greener in the other apartments? That it’s open to interpretation is just part of the pleasure derived from reading The Neighbors. I love that the book beautifully incorporates senses such as smell and sound into the story. Parents, caregivers and teachers can take advantage of several possible activities to explore using the book as inspiration. For example, have children create their own doors for you to guess who lives behind them and vice versa. Or maybe cover the illustration after studying the door in the The Neighbors to see what your child can conjure up. This is the kind of book I would have returned to again and again with my children and I hope you’ll agree.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL:
HOW ART TRANSFORMED A NEIGHBORHOOD
by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
(HMH Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

maybe-something-beautiful-cvr

 

My praise might be late in coming, but my love is not. Maybe Something Beautiful, a picture book from this past spring, simply stole my heart. I first saw it at the bookstore where I work and it was truly love at first sight. It happens with books, the great ones anyway and this is a great book.

Based on a true story, this picture book chronicles the transformation of East Village near downtown San Diego. Rafael and Candice Lopez helped  turn their neighborhood from a drab, gray place into one full of vibrant color. That’s exactly what you see in this book. The vibrancy of color washes over the dull world of one little girl named Mira. Her own room is full of light and color, even if her neighborhood is not.

As Mira begins giving pieces of her art away to people, the world becomes a little less gray. Mira herself is a child that seems to have come straight from a gorgeous box of paints. Her joy and life are seen visually in the brilliant colors with which she is depicted. Joyous paint splotches leave a trail behind her like pixie dust as she gives her art to more monotone community members. Still, how much gray can one person transform on her own? Enter one magical artist with a plan. A pocket-full-of-paintbrushes man, an artist, asks Mira what can she imagine being on a gray wall?

“Then, just like that, he dipped a brush into the paint. BAM! POW!
The shadows scurried away.
Sky blue cut through the gloom.
The man’s laughter was like a rainbow spreading across the sky.”

The Muralist and Mira happily go on painting the city’s walls, attracting a growing crowd of neighbors who all join them in painting just about everything. Soon that gray has no place to go! It was all something beautiful until a policeman arrives, looking quite stern. Not to fear, all is well as the policeman just wants to join in all the painting fun! The book ends with the whole city born again in colors and light. Mira wonders if just one more miracle is possible as she tries to paint a bird, a real bird, thinking maybe, just maybe that could happen too.

When you’re done reading the enchanting Maybe Something Beautiful  the colors stay with you, and so does Mira’s story. I find myself thinking, “Maybe something beautiful can come out of any gray day. Maybe today will be a full color day.” After all art, the great liberator, comes to visit any day I want. I just need the courage to practice it. So today was my full color day because I got to practice my art of writing. This makes me think that I need to splash a little color on those who made this book that I enjoy so much.

Campoy and Howell’s text makes the story burst into life! The short scene with the police officer added just enough shadow to make the story interesting, but not enough to ruin the fun. Lopez’s illustrations are amazing as always, his use of color replenishes my heart. The way his artwork shows the neighborhood and the people in it all absorbing the color around them is captivating. It makes me want to get a brush and join them. This is a wonderful book for anyone. What it taught me is that beauty is everywhere, but if you don’t see it then you need to be the one who makes it apparent. See some gray? Don’t look for a problem, but rather, see a canvas of possibility. Maybe something beautiful will come of it.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

Visit the website for Maybe Something Beautiful  here.
Visit F. Isabel Campoy’s website here.
Visit Theresa Howell’s website here.
Visit Rafael Lopez’s website here.

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